Monday 30 March 2020

Hungary Allocates 5G Spectrum in 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 3.6 GHz

The Hungarian regulator NMHH has announced the result of a tender for 5G licences in the country. In a statement, it says that the licences, valid for 15 years in three frequency bands, have been awarded to Magyar Telekom, Telenor Hungary and Vodafone Hungary. It adds that in total the three companies will pay HUF128 billion (€360.4 million) for the rights.

NMHH notes that the bids received by March 11 for the 700 MHz, 2100 MHz and 3600 MHz bands revealed that there was more demand than supply. It therefore held auctions for the blocks offered, subject to strict precautions. The three service providers were able to bid for a number of frequency blocks within each frequency band, starting with the initial bid value specified in the documentation for that band. The auction was preceded by a trial auction on March 24.

Karas Monika, chairman of NMHH, said: “5G frequency services will play a key role in economic development and, in the short term, can effectively support our healthcare network, domestic telework and distance education, even in times of coronavirus restrictions. And in the post-epidemic period, they can accelerate the recovery of the Hungarian economy.”

To this end, NMHH will encourage service providers to install 5G at locations that are not only important to them from a market point of view but are also socially important, such as the internet. hospitals, campuses or major transport routes.

The usage rights of the acquired frequencies will expire uniformly in 2035. The 700 MHz frequency band will only be available once this band has definitively moved out, ie not earlier than September 6, 2020.

The term of the rights may be extended once for a further period of five years, subject to unchanged conditions and without a single additional fee being charged for the right of use of the frequency.

Google translation of the NMHH announcement says:

The March 11 bidding process for the sale of usage rights for the fifth generation (5G) mobile technology and wireless broadband in the 700 MHz, 2100 MHz and 3600 MHz bands revealed that there was more demand than supply, Thus, on March 26, NMHH held auctions of the blocks offered, subject to strict precautions.

This is of paramount importance for the Hungarian economy, as it will give Hungary a competitive advantage over those countries where the most important spectrum parts for 5G services have not yet been sold. After the auction, Hungary will be among the first to take advantage of 5G innovations in, for example, industry, health, agriculture, transport or even logistics. The bidding service providers pay the Hungarian public a significant amount, about HUF 128.5 billion, for the frequency usage rights acquired at the auction, thus ultimately for the Hungarian citizens.

The three service providers involved in the NMHH process were able to bid for the number of frequency blocks within each frequency band , starting with the initial bid value specified in the documentation for that band . The auction was preceded by a trial auction on March 24, where representatives of the service providers, in addition to the sales documentation, were introduced to the auction site and the auction methodology at the auction site.

Due to the well-known epidemic situation, the auction took place under special circumstances. The NMHH provided general health monitoring of the event on site, and the necessary protective equipment for each auction participant. At the event, both the service providers and the authority representatives displayed responsible, disciplined behavior, abiding by the health rules that can be expected in such a situation.

Detailed results

At the auction on March 26, Magyar Telekom acquired 10 MHz twice in the 700 MHz band, 10 MHz twice in the 2100 MHz band and 120 MHz in the 3600 MHz band.

Telenor acquired 5MHz twice in the 700 MHz band, with no success in the 2100MHz band, and 140MHz in the 3600MHz band.

Vodafone acquired 10 MHz twice in the 700 MHz band, 5 MHz twice in the 2100 MHz band and 50 MHz in the 3600 MHz band.

There was intense competition between service providers in the 700 MHz band, while none of the bidders in the 2600 MHz band.

Monika Karas, president of the NMIAH According to "The developing are your 5G-and frequency-sales as a result of services plays a key role will be economic development , even in the short term have been the time constraints associated with the coronavirus can effectively support the operation of the health network, domestic telework and distance learning. In the post-epidemic period, they can accelerate the recovery of the Hungarian economy. "

To this end, NMHH will encourage service providers to install 5G at locations that are not only important to them from a market point of view, but are also socially important - such as the Internet. hospitals, campuses or major transport routes.

The usage rights of the acquired frequencies will expire uniformly in 2035. The 700 MHz frequency band will only be available once this band has definitively moved out, ie not earlier than 6 September 2020. The term of the rights may be extended once for a further period of five years, subject to unchanged conditions and without any additional one-off payment being made for the right to use the frequency.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Algeria - Growth and Competition in North Africa

The mobile services market in Algeria showed significant growth in the last couple of years, having been relatively stagnant previously. Much of this growth was stimulated by the government’s efforts to improve connectivity in rural areas.

Intensifying price competition between the three MNOs – Mobilis, Djezzy and Ooredoo Algeria – together with increases in taxes on voice and data services, have had a negative effect on operator revenue. A new roaming agreement with Tunisia will place further pressure on revenue.
With the market becoming more mature, operators in turn are looking to opportunities in the mobile data and mobile broadband segments to generate revenue. To this end they have invested in upgrades to LTE infrastructure and have reported significant increases in data traffic. 

According to Analysys Mason, there were approximately 48.8 million mobile customers in Algeria as of December 31, 2019, compared to 51.3 million mobile customers as of December 31, 2018, representing a mobile penetration rate of approximately 112.3%, compared to 120.4% as of December 31, 2018.

Veon operate in Algeria through their operating company, Optimum, and the brand, “Djezzy.” 

Djezzy broadcasts 2G on 900 MHz and 3G up to HSPA+ on 2100 MHz in 48 Wilayas. 4G/LTE was launched in 2016 on 1800 MHz (band 3) and is available in most Wilayahs. They provide 4G/LTE services in Algeria in 28 of 48 provinces across the country, including Algiers, and the largest provinces in terms of population. Coverage in cities is good, while outdoors on 4G/LTE, but often falls back to 3G indoors. Rural coverarge ranges from 3G to sometimes EDGE or no service. Speeds on 4G/LTE ranges between 10 and 20 Mbps to occasionally poor or trouble connecting to some websites. Overall, connectivity is fairly reliable, though.They generally offer customers mobile telecommunications services under prepaid and postpaid plans.

Djezzy is the most popular brand amongst young people with the most aggressive marketing and generally on par with Mobilis.

Mobilis is the brand under which the mobile subsidiary of state-owned Algérie Télécom is marketing its mobile offers. Based on the number of subscribers it's currently the second operator in the country and was launched in 2003.

Mobilis has been offering 3G connection in basically 80% of all the cities and towns since 2012. 4G/LTE was launched in October 2016 on 1800 MHz (band 3). 4G/LTE is available in the Wilayas of Tlemcen, Constantine, Batna, Bordj Bou Arreridj, El Oued, Biskra, Boumerdès, Tipaza, Blida, Tizi-Ouzou et Sidi Bel-Abbès. Current coverage for 4G can be checked online by selecting the Wilayah, the city and the part of the city.

Mobilis has trialled 5G and expected to launch commercial services in 2020. Towards the end of 2018, Mobilis  successfully tested 5G connections in the town of Oran with the technical support of its partner Huawei. The data rates achieved were 1.18 Gbps. Oran will not be the only 5G town, as the operator is also working with other partners to conduct the same tests in other towns to be ready for global switch to the new technology in 2020.

The third operator in number of users in Algeria is Ooredoo and used to be called Nedjma before.
Just like the other Algerian operators they operate 2G on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 2100 MHz and since end of 2016 on 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (band 3) as well. Ooredoo covers with 3G most populated areas in Algeria and 28 out of 48 Wilayahs are covered with 4G so far.

Nokia is helping Ooredoo Algeria take the first step towards next generation networks and reinforce its technology leadership in the region with the successful deployment of North Africa's first virtualized Mobile Gateway. This is a crucial step for the migration of core network elements to the cloud and paves the way for the transformation of the core network to support next generation mobile network technology. The deployment allows Ooredoo Algeria to meet growing data demand in the region, and provide new and innovative services like Internet of Things (IoT), in addition to enhanced broadband to its subscribers. Once deployed, Ooredoo Algeria's subscribers will be able to enjoy high bandwidth-consuming services, delivering the best possible performance and reliability.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Kenya has a Model Mobile Market

According to the latest sector statistics report from the regulator, 'Communications Authority of Kenya', The number of active mobile subscriptions (SIM Cards) in the country stood at 53.2 million as at 30th September 2019, up from 52.2 million subscriptions reported at the end of June 2019. This translated to mobile (SIM) penetration level of 112.0%. The high mobile SIM penetration is attributed to the increasing availability and access to mobile networks signal and a variety of convenient mobile services. Available data indicates that at least 2G and 3G covers 96 per cent and 93 per cent of the population respectively. The Authority is driving a number of initiatives to close access gaps including; voice infrastructure and school broadband connectivity projects under the Universal Service Fund (USF), enforcement of operator’s license obligations and licensing of additional frequencies that support mobile services. SIM penetration in the country remains above 100 percent due to multiple SIM ownership among users of cellular services.

The following network operators are active in Kenya:

Airtel (formerly Zain) - to be merged with Telkom
Telkom (formerly Orange) - to be merged with Airtel
Faiba 4G (on 4G-only)

The statistics from the 'Communications Authority of Kenya' include the MVNO's Equitel and Mobile Pay Limited separately. While data about Faiba 4G is not included. Equitel uses Airtel network while we are not sure which network Tangaza Pesa (brand name for Mobile Pay Limited) uses.

2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz and 3G on 2100 MHz on all three providers. 4G/LTE has started in 2014 with Safaricom on 800 (B20) and 1800 MHz (B3) and has started with Airtel on 800 MHz (B20).. In 2017 Faiba launched its 4G-only network in a very limited area of the country.

In 2019 Telkom and Airtel Kenya announced the merging of  their mobile businesses in order to operate under a joint venture company to be known as Airtel-Telkom to create a stronger challenger to market leader Safaricom. Airtel and Telkom said that both brands, as well as their respective products and solutions, will continue to co-exist, and service delivery will continue to operate as usual. The finalisation and closure of the transaction is subject to approval by the relevant authorities.

Coverage is pretty good, except for the very remote areas in the north, but mobile towers are sometimes overload, which leads to slow speeds. But the mobile network is rapidly being expanded.

In Kenya mobile phones are often used as a payment method. So advanced payment systems are employed by all three providers for all kinds of payments. Even a first MVNO called Equitel that started in 2014 as a subsidiary of a local bank provides only banking and payment services so far.

Safaricom is the dominant provider in the country. It's co-owned by Vodafone and the public. In 2017 it had 30 million subscribers giving it a whopping 76% of the national base and the best coverage even in remote areas. Because of its many users though, it can be overcrowded and suffer from slow speeds.

4G/LTE has started in 2014 in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa on 800 and 1800 MHz. This was extended in 2016 to the towns of Nakuru, Elodret, Meru, Kisii and Kisumu and further towns followe for 4G and a 80% 3G coverage is intended. In 2017 4G/LTE is present in all 47 counties of Kenya covering about 1/3 of the population.

Safaricom's payment system is called M-Pesa and is the most used in the country.
Airtel, owned by Indian Bharti Airtel is the second provider in the country. They won the customers of YU after their closure in 2014 and have 15.5% of the national user base in 2017. It's coverage is not as good as Safaricom, but still covers 75% of population in 2016 by 3G.

In 2017 Airtel began trialling a 4G/LTE network in the capital Nairobi and has it has been expanded to 45 other sites in major towns, including Mombasa and Kisumu within the year. In 2018 it bought their license on band 20 (800 MHz) and in May Airtel announced the commercial launch of 4G/LTE services. Coverage is currently available in the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, although the network will be expanded to other locations in due course.

In 2019 Airtel and Telkom have announced to merge their networks pending approval of the authorities to maintain both brands under a new combined Airtel-Telkom network.

Telkom in Kenya is the smallest provider caring for only 8% of the country's users. It was sold by Orange Group to private equity firm Helios Investment Partners in June 2016. Helios holds 60% and the Government of Kenya the rest. They have dropped the Orange brand and adopted Telkom as its new trading name in 2017.

It has the lowest coverage in the country, but because of their few users, it can give great speeds, where covered. In 2015 the migration from their old CDMA to GSM network has been completed and its CDMA network is now closed down. 4G/LTE has started in the towns of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu and has spread to 17 further towns so far. 2G coverage is at 95% and 3G at 55% in 2017.

In 2019 Airtel and Telkom have announced to merge their networks pending approval of the authorities to maintain both brands under a new combined Airtel-Telkom network.

Faiba 4G by triple-play provider Jamii Telecommunications Ltd. (JTL) started in December 2017 in a very limited area a 4G-only network on 700 MHz (Band 28). There is no fallback to 2G or 3G and all voice services are provided through VoLTE.

At their launch, Faiba had 300 base stations with a target of achieving 1000 stations by 2020. JTL says that Faiba customers can achieve up to 72 Mbps speeds. Faiba is so far available in the following areas: Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Thika.

Earlier this week President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the approval of Google Loon Services in Kenya to enable universal 4G data coverage in the country.

He said the approval was in line with Government’s measures to respond to the disruptions caused by the global Coronavirus pandemic that has seen many people work from home to avoid contracting the respiratory illness.  He announced that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has signed an agreement with Google Loon that allows Loon Balloons to fly over Kenyan airspace.

These balloons, which will hover well above Kenya's commercial airspace, carry 4G base stations and have the capacity to provide wider signal coverage.

The President also said the new development will enable Kenya to retain her competitive advantages in ICT and innovation in the midst of the current crisis; while at the same time laying the foundation for greater expansion once the current health challenge is contained.

The President said Telkom Kenya and Google have been testing the 4G data network and will roll out the commercial service as soon as the balloons are available in the Kenyan airspace. Once inaugurated, this service will extend Telkom Kenya’s 4G network to areas that currently are not covered by any of the Kenyan mobile network providers.

The service will also boost online learning as it will allow teachers and students to access education materials remotely. While citing the recently set up telemedicine centre for Coronavirus detection at Kenyatta National Hospital, the President said Kenyans should be proud of their country’s pole position in technology and innovations.

Loon is a network of balloons travelling on the edge of space, delivering connectivity to people in unserved and underserved communities around the world.

It has taken the most essential components of a cell tower and redesigned them to be light and durable enough to be carried by a balloon 20 km up, on the edge of space. Loon balloons are designed and manufactured to endure the harsh conditions in the stratosphere, where winds can blow over 100 km/hr, and temperatures can drop as low as -90° C.

Loon in partnership with Telkom will pilot an innovative new 4G/LTE access network service in Kenya. This will be Loon’s first commercial service in Africa. The Loon service is an innovative approach to providing extended 4G/LTE coverage to rural and suburban areas with lower population densities, using high altitude balloons operating 20 kilometres (60,000 feet) above sea level, well above air traffic, wildlife, and weather events. The balloons act as floating cell towers, transmitting a provider’s service – in this case, Telkom’s service – directly to a subscriber’s existing 4G/LTE phone below. Loon’s equipment is powered by onboard solar panels.

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Sunday 22 March 2020

NTT Docomo's 5G Launch on 25 March 2020

NTT Docomo announced this week that they will launch their much anticipated 5G service on a commercial basis in Japan on March 25. At the time of launch, the service will achieve a maximum data rate of 3.4 Gbps. In June the downlink will increase to a maximum 4.1 Gbps. I am assuming this is the theoretical maximum that can be achieved in their network.

Their press release stated:

DOCOMO's 5G coverage will encompass some 150 locations nationwide initially and then expand to all prefectures by June. More than 500 cities are expected to have access to DOCOMO's 5G service by March 2021.

Customers who purchase a 5G-compatible smartphone from DOCOMO will be able to choose between two types of billing plans according to their data needs.

At launch, DOCOMO's lineup of 5G-compatible devices will include seven models in the docomo Smartphone series and a mobile Wi-Fi® router. All models will be compatible with DOCOMO's existing LTE network.

Going forward, DOCOMO is committed to steadily expanding and enhancing its 5G network service to create new value for society and to make customers' lives more convenient and fulfilling.

In addition to the press release, Docomo released a whole lot of interesting material.

The first is the new 70+ pages PDF titled 'New 5G Services & Products Presentation'. This details all their services, devices, partnerships, etc. It is always a pleasure to see an operator having such an open approach, consistently. I blogged about a recent presentation from NTT Docomo that talked about their Open Innovation Cloud that is bringing together partners to offer innovative 5G applications using their infrastructure. Some of these are detailed in here too.

The second is that they have put their launch up on the YouTube channel. This is embedded below:

The third is that they have created some 5G vision adverts, the playlist is embedded below:

Finally, over the years, NTT Docomo have always been in the forefront of trying out new 5G related use cases, approaches, materials, etc. Here is another of our list embedded below that provides some more details.

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Wednesday 18 March 2020

Thai Operators AIS and True have launched 5G

Earlier we wrote about Thailand's spectrum auctions here. Now two operators, AIS and True have already launched 5G on 2.6 GHz band. This is the TD 2600+ band (n41) as opposed to Band n7.

Picture Source: Ping Chp on Twitter

Mobile World Live reported yesterday that True has switched on their 5G network:

Thai operator True Move launched 5G services after paying the first instalment on newly acquired spectrum, making it the second operator in the country to introduce the next-generation technology.

In a stock market filing yesterday (16 March), the operator said it received a 2.6GHz spectrum licence from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission after making the required 10 per cent payment of the purchase price and putting down a bank guarantee for the remaining amount with the regulator.

True Move, the second-largest operator in the country by subscribers, acquired 90MHz of 2.6GHz spectrum and 800MHz in the 26GHz band for THB21.45 billion ($668 million) in an auction last month.

After running 5G trials in 2019, the operator deployed 400 5G base stations using the 2.6GHz band. Subscribers on unlimited data plans will be offered free service upgrades.

Market leader AIS started 5G service using the 2.6GHz band after making its first spectrum payment on 21 February.

Mobile world live had earlier reported that:

The company posted net profit of THB210 million ($6.7 million), rebounding from a loss of THB2.14 billion in Q4 2018. Group revenue grew 11 per cent year-on-year to THB37.7 billion.

Mobile service revenue increased 11.3 per cent to THB19.9 billion, mainly due to double-digit growth in the post-paid segment and the continued success of a device-bundling campaign, the operator said in an earnings statement.

Product sales grew 38.6 per cent to THB6.99 billion.

Mobile unit True Move added 1.4 million subs in 2019, taking its total to 30.6 million at end-December, of which 8.3 million were post-paid and 22.3 million prepaid. Post-paid APRU edged up to THB468 from THB463 in 4Q 2018.

With regards to AIS, Mobile World Live reported:

AIS set aside a preliminary budget of THB10 billion ($318.8 million) to THB15 billion for its 5G rollout over the next 12 months, pitching the investment as a likely boon for 4G customers too.

AIS spent THB42.1 billion on a 5MHz block in the 700MHz band, 100MHz of 2600MHz and 1200MHz in the 26GHz band in the country’s 5G auction on 16 February, winning licences with 15-year terms.

In a stock market filing, the operator said it will initially use the 700MHz and 2600MHz bands because this will enable it to expand the capacity and coverage of its LTE network given those licences cover 4G and 5G.

For its 5G services in the 2600MHz band, it is targeting at least 50 per population coverage of key cities including Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket within four years. It did not disclose targets for the 700MHz and 26GHz bands.

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Friday 13 March 2020

Yahoo Mobile Recycling a brand or an actual innovation?

Verizon is launching a mobile phone service through the Yahoo brand called Yahoo Mobile.  It offers subscribers unlimited data, calls and texts for $40 a month on the Verizon’s network. In addition, the plan comes with access to Yahoo Mail Pro, the ad-free version of the email service, which comes with 1,000 GB of storage.

Verizon acquired Yahoo in 2017 to help it expand into the digital advertising space. So the unveiling of today's mobile phone plan may be an attempt to get more users on Yahoo properties to increase ad revenue.The deal included the Yahoo brand and major web services like Flickr and Tumblr. But Verizon was mainly interested in Yahoo’s ad technology, and it’s done little with Yahoo. Both Flickr and Tumblr have since been sold off, and Yahoo’s biggest announcements have been payouts for data breaches.

It seems unlikely the free access to the $3.49-a-month Yahoo Mail Pro will lure anyone to try out the new service. However, the $40 monthly rate for unlimited data may entice consumers looking for a cheaper plan. It is a good price; Verizon charges $65 per month for a prepaid unlimited plan, and AT&T charges $45 per month.

However there are restrictions for example hotspot use being limited to one device at a time, speeds capped at 5 megabits per second and customers will be restricted to Verizon’s 4G LTE network at a time when the operator has been rolling out its faster 5G service across the country. Apparently support for 5G is coming later in 2020.

On the plus side, Yahoo Mobile will give subscribers free access to Verizon’s mobile hotspots whenever available, although speeds will be capped at 5 Mbps. In addition, the carrier says customers can cancel the plan whenever they want.

Family plans are not yet available but they may come later. Verizon says that while the focus is on individual plans for now, "Yahoo Mobile will evolve to meet consumers' needs as it continues to grow."

 Yahoo will be selling phones, though you can also bring your own. A compatibility checker on Yahoo Mobile's site will allow you to see if your phone will work on the network.

However this does feel like a lazy attempt to recycle the Yahoo brand, Yahoo Mobile is basically just a rebranded version of Visible, which is another spinoff phone service operated by Yahoo.
 The singular plan is the same, their websites match up beat for beat, and Yahoo Mobile even offers Visible’s phone insurance plan under Visible’s name. However Visible does not even have the cap that Yahoo Mobile does.
Spinoff carriers like Yahoo Mobile and Visible let Verizon diversify its business and test out new ways of selling wireless service. Verizon isn’t exactly a beloved brand, but Visible has hip branding and a simple pricing structure — something that might appeal to younger customers. Yahoo Mobile offers another take on that, just with the added bonus of  subscription Yahoo Mail. However is that enough to lure customers and gain a foothold in the market?

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Wednesday 11 March 2020

USA has an interesting mix of different types of 5G

The US operators always had an interesting strategy for their 5G rollouts. Verizon for example was always focused on mmWave 5G as we wrote about earlier here. T-Mobile was pushing for a nationwide 5G using 600 MHz back in 2017. Sprint always planned to use its 2.5 GHz C-Band spectrum for 5G. AT&T was more focused on LTE and they rolled out 5Ge. In fact as we wrote in our post on Telecom Infrastructure blog, during Superbowl, there was no AT&T 5G available in the stadium.

The fact is that as you can see in the layer cake picture above, the lower the frequency, the further the signal propagates. At the same time, due to only lower bandwidths being available in the low frequency, the throughput it can deliver is restricted. So there is a trade-off between coverage and throughput.

In the Telecoms Infrastructure blog post, we discussed the winners and losers based on Ookla Speedtest results as can be seen in the picture above.

OpenSignal has performed a more detailed analysis on the US operators that they detailed in their blog here. The following is a summary from that post:

In these tests, average 5G download speeds from Verizon were 15 times faster than the slowest 5G offering

Opensignal recorded the fastest average 5G download speed of 722.9 Mbps on Verizon’s 5G mmWave network, followed by T-Mobile’s mmWave with 243.1 Mbps, and Sprint at 183.0 Mbps on its 2.5 GHz 5G network in known locations where 5G was present. AT&T and T-Mobile’s low-band 5G networks clocked average download speeds of 59.3 Mbps and 47.5 Mbps respectively, confirming that the type of 5G service and the spectrum used for 5G has a major impact on the speeds a user will see.

We analyzed T-Mobile’s mmWave 5G service separately from its 600MHz 5G service because at the time of our testing in December and January a potential customer had to choose a 5G smartphone model that either supported mmWave 5G on T-Mobile or one that supported 600MHz 5G on T-Mobile. There was no model available that supported both. The first phone to offer that capability will be the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G which is available from March 6 which uses a newer 5G chipset.

The speeds Opensignal found reflect U.S. operators’ different deployment strategies for their 5G networks:
  • mmWave high-band 5G: Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T launched mmWave 5G networks across a number of cities, although AT&T’s service is only available to business customers and select early adopters. 
  • Mid-band 5G: Sprint is using its mid-band 2.5 GHz for 5G and possesses enough spectrum to deliver hundreds of Mbps in speed, with a decent signal propagation. Sprint states it has citywide coverage in locations where it has launched its service.
  • Low-band 5G: T-Mobile and AT&T re-used 4G spectrum from their 850 MHz and 600 MHz holdings and launched 5G services using low-band spectrum in December 2019. U.S. operators have been more conservative in their speed claims for low-band 5G services, but they will offer much wider coverage when compared to high and mid-band 5G.

Devices connected to T-Mobile & Sprint’s lower-band 5G five times as often as to Verizon’s mmWave 5G

Opensignal also conducted tests around the downtown areas of cities where U.S. operators had stated they had launched their 5G services to understand how often speed tests would be on 5G. In our testing, finding a 5G signal often proved challenging.

On T-Mobile’s 600Mhz 5G network we saw the greatest time connected to 5G of 53.0%. We were able to connect to a 5G signal just over half of the time during our testing on T-Mobile’s 600 MHz and slightly less on Sprint’s 2.5GHz 5G networks. With both T-Mobile’s mmWave and AT&T’s 850 MHz 5G networks we spent 10.6% of the time connected to a 5G signal during the walk tests, while we connected to a 5G signal on Verizon’s mmWave 5G just 6% of the time.

Opensignal recorded the fastest average combined 4G/5G download speeds on Sprint’s network

In Opensignal tests we saw speeds of several hundred Mbps on 5G mmWave networks but devices found a 5G signal 10.6% or less of the time on this type of 5G, while devices connecting to low-band 5G networks found signal about half of the time but saw far slower speeds compared to high-band 5G.

We calculated a combined 4G/5G download speed taking into account how much time devices spent connected to each 5G network during the walk tests, to understand which 5G service had the biggest impact on the download speeds we observed.

Taking into account both time on 5G and average download speeds, out of the five consumer 5G services tested, only Sprint exceeded the 100 Mbps threshold in average combined 4G/5G download speed tests. Despite offering slower average 5G download speeds than mmWave, Sprint’s mid-band 5G had a much greater impact on our combined download speed — which averaged 109.8 Mbps — because we were able to connect to 5G almost half of the time.

What these early 5G test results really mean

It’s still just the start of the 5G era, so it’s early to draw definitive conclusions on the future of 5G. But some trends are starting to show:

U.S. carriers’ 5G services are held back by 5G spectrum availability. Without the availability of new 5G mid-band spectrum, U.S. wireless operators have launched 5G services on a variety of spectrum frequencies that they had available, spanning from 600 MHz to 28 GHz. We believe that all U.S. operators will need to complement their holdings with more mid-band spectrum to take advantage of the sweet spot which 3-6 GHz frequencies provide in the trade-off between low bands’ wide reach and high bands’ super-fast speeds. At the moment, Sprint — soon the new T-Mobile when the Sprint/T-Mobile merger closes — is the only operator that owns spare mid-band spectrum that can be used for 5G.

mmWave 5G really is extremely fast. Speeds will depend on the type of 5G — low frequency band, mid-band or mmWave — and consequently on the amount of spectrum that operators have available for their 5G users. Opensignal measured how different spectrum band provides different benefits: mmWave allows for high capacity and super-fast speeds which would be advantageous in specific areas like crowded stadiums, whereas low-band 5G’s biggest benefit — its extended reach — allows for the creation of a diffused 5G coverage layer, with a limited uplift in terms of speed.

Users should not automatically expect speeds of several hundred Mbps on 5G. All of the 5G speeds we see are fast by U.S. standards, but seeing a 5G icon on the screen is no guarantee of 5G, or of speeds of hundreds of Mbps, instead real-world testing at scale will be needed to quantify the true 5G experience. Users need to look at the real-world 5G experience of each operator to understand what 5G means.

Mike Dano, Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies recently did a long presentation on titled Defining actual 5G, and what it might do, looking at the 5G deployments and strategies in the USA. His slides are available here and the video is embedded below.

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Monday 9 March 2020

Bhutan improving 2G, 3G & 4G coverage while preparing for arrival of 5G in 2022

The Kingdom of Bhutan has two mobile network operators: B-Mobile (by Bhutan Telecom, state-owned) and TashiCell (privately owned).

2G/GSM is on 900 MHz on both providers and 1800 MHz on TashiCell, 3G up to HSPA+ on 850 and 2100 MHz in the major towns only. B-Mobile has started 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz (B3) and TashiCell on 700 MHz (B28).

State-owned incumbent Bhutan Telecom Limited (BT) is the leading provider of telecommunications and internet services in the Kingdom. Besides fixed line telephony and internet services, it provides mobile services under its brand B-Mobile. It has the larger network with more users. 2G is on 900 and 1800 MHz, 3G on 850 MHz and 4G/LTE on 1800 MHz.

Bhutan Telecom has now officially launched 4G/LTE services in the towns of Thimphu, Paro, Phuentsholing, Wangdue and Punakha. Customers can convert their existing SIM to 4G free of cost. Bhutan Telecom plans to soon expand its 4G service to other Dzongkhags and Satellite towns.

Bhutan Telecom in partnership with Ericsson have successfully deployed a disaster resilient, emergency telecom core network in Bhutan as a JICA grant project.

This emergency telecom core network has been built with the objective of providing users with a seamless and uninterrupted experience, even during natural calamities. Under the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) grant project, Ericsson has implemented disaster recovery solutions from its Digital Services portfolio to help Bhutan Telecom build this network. Ericsson solutions deployed in the network include Evolved Packet Core, Mobile Switching, OSS and BSS. This network would be helpful both in day-to-day operations as well as in enhancing the preparedness of the network to handle disaster situations.

TashiCell by Tashi InfoComm Ltd. is the only privately owned alternative. It launched in 2008 and has a market share of 30%. It has a lower coverage than B-Mobile on 2G and 3G, but they've added many new site recently. 2G is on 900 MHz, 3G on 850 MHz.

4G/LTE has been launched in 2016 on 700 MHz (band 28) which is still not so common. It's available in Thimphu, Paro and Phuntsholing and Wangdue & Punakha dzongkhag.

Bhutan’s regulator has set out its roadmap towards 5G adoption, with deployments expected to begin in 2022. Both operators are working on this roadmap and intend to start tests soon.

The Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) has published the Regulator Framework for 5G Deployment in Bhutan. The framework advocates waiting until other markets have deployed the technology so that Bhutan is able to learn from their experiences and “take advantage of the increasingly mature 5G mobile ecosystem.”

BICMA expects to see the first commercial deployments begin in 2022 ahead of a broader rollout from 2024. The regulator has promised to encourage innovation to education around 5G technology in the market. To this end, it will grant permits for 5G research and allow operators to conduct 5G trials via the 2600MHz, 3.5GHz and 26GHz bands without paying licence or spectrum fees.

A wide range of bands are under consideration of 5G usage, including the 700MHz, 2100MHz, 2600MHz, 3.5GHz, 4.5GHz and 26GHz bands. The 2100MHz band is currently used for 3G services and BICMA expects this to be the case “until 2025 and beyond”, while the 2600MHz band is also in use for fixed-wireless broadband and multichannel multipoint distribution services.

As a result, the 3.5GHz is seen by BICMA as the “current frontrunner 5G band”. The regulator noted that the 26GHz band is also a contender but would require “wider deployment of small cells” due to its propagation nature. The 4.5GHz band is currently in use, and so would not be available for 5G purposes until all current users had been migrated – which BICMA expects would take two to four years.

Friday 6 March 2020

Jio going it alone for 5G Development

In September 2016, Reliance, an Indian conglomerate owned by Mukesh Ambani  launched a new mobile carrier and broadband network in India called Jio. It has become a phenomenal success, become the largest telco operator in India surpassing old horses like Bharati Airtel and Vodafone.

Reliance Jio began its services by offering free of cost SIM cards, free voice calls over a 4G network, and dirt cheap data at Rs. 22 (33c) per GB. Because of these early offerings, the telco’s subscriber numbers crossed the mark of 100 million in just 170 days.

As its user base grew, the company offered cheaper data plans. As of today, some of its plans offer data at Rs 3.17 (5c) per GB, which is the cheapest in the world. Jio also offers free content through a bunch of apps including JioTV, Jio Cinema, Jio News, and Jio Saavn (previously Jio Music).

The telco has had a crucial role in fuelling India’s mobile internet boom. A report by the Economic Times suggests after Jio entered the market it forced competitors to slash their prices; bringing data rates down to Rs 15 per GB (22c) from Rs 250 per GB ($3.63) on an average. It also notes that Indians now consume 3.7 billion GB data per month as compared to 200 million GB per month, three years ago, representing an 18.5x increase.

Reiance Jio now seeks the the government's permission to undertake 5G trials in India using its own technology and design. With this, Jio has emerged as the first Indian telecom major to seek 5G trials based on self-designed technology.

The operator had previously applied to carry out 5G trials with Samsung. Now RJio wants to end its dependence on Samsung and use its own gear, network architecture and infrastructure for 5G trials.  If those are successful, it may outsource the technology for manufacturing.

Few operators develop their own mobile technology from scratch, however Jio did previously set up  its 4G network and has shown an inclination to develop its own infrastructure as much as possible.

For several years after RJio procured 4G spectrum in 2010, 4G technology was not ready for commercial deployment in India. Over this period, Rancore Technologies, a subsidiary of RJio parent company Reliance Industries, carried out 4G research and trials in a bid to develop the 4G ecosystem and prepare for a commercial launch.

 Besides hiring Samsung, RJio also teamed up with Bell Labs (later Nokia Bell Labs) to explore ways of providing voice services on the 4G network.

All this demonstrates RJio's track record of conducting its own research and trials before launching services. It now seems eager to emulate its 4G experience in 5G, finding the best technology options before launching 5G services. The 5G tests look like a step in this direction.

Now a part of RJio, Rancore Technologies seems likely to play a significant role in these 5G plans. And it is not the only vendor that has been subsumed into the business. In 2018, RJio bought Radisys, a US systems and software vendor, to support what Akash Ambani, RJio's chief strategy officer, described as a push for "global innovation and technology leadership in the areas of 5G, IoT [Internet of Things] and open source architecture adoption."

As India's newest telco, RJio has made investments in a highly sophisticated, all-IP network that should provide a good foundation for 5G. Of similar use will be its fiber network, now India's most extensive at about 1.1 million kilometers. These assets put RJio in a better 5G position than its rivals.

RJio's strategy of conducting a 5G trial based on its design is also in keeping with the government's Make in India policy to promote local manufacturing. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has been asking telcos to opt for India-made gear. It has even provided incentives based on three categories: designed in India but manufactured abroad; designed and manufactured in India; and designed abroad but manufactured in India. RJio's initiatives are likely to fall under the first two categories.

After a court ruling that went against them, India's other operators, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea, are busy scrambling for resources to pay off historical licensing fees they now owe the government. That leaves RJio relatively free to take a lead in the 5G space. Its trials, if successful, will clearly set a precedent.

On the 5G front, the biggest roadblock for Jio, or for that matter any operator, is going to be steep spectrum prices. The base price of the 5G spectrum (in 3,300 megahertz to 3,600 megahertz band) is highest in India. At TRAI's recommended reserve price of Rs 492 crore per MHz, operators will have to pay around Rs 50,000 crore for 100 MHz pan-India spectrum - that's the minimum spectrum required to deliver 5G services (in sub-6000 MHz bands) as per global body ITU. The government has also said that it's not planning to reduce the base price for the 5G spectrum.

Another major issue is the greater urgency for Jio to acquire more 4G spectrum than 5G spectrum at the moment. For two main reasons: some of the Reliance Communications' spectrum (in 800 MHz band) that Jio uses is expiring in July/August 2021. Then, the spectrum holding of Jio is lowest amongst the private operators. For instance, Jio's spectrum holding is 1480 MHz as compared to Vodafone Idea's 1850 MHz and Airtel's 1727 MHz. Given that it's the largest telecom operator in the country at present - with 370 million subs as on December 2019 - and it's adding nearly 7 million subs per month, Therefore one can conclude that Jio needs to first focus on its current services and subs before taking a plunge in the next-gen 5G.

Globally, the development of 5G ecosystem (devices, equipment) has suffered a huge setback due to coronavirus. China, which is expected to lead the market with mass-scale production of affordable 5G handset/equipment, has literally stopped the production lines. It is likely to push the 5G launch forward by a few quarters. Jio's vendor partner Samsung would likely be affected as South Korea is one of the worst affected countries from coronavirus.

In India, as the deadline to launch 5G trials keeps shifting (the recent buzz is April-June quarter), an expert says that Jio can be unpredictable with its moves too. "They might want to buy 5G spectrum with an intention of leading the market in launching the new technology, and benefit from the first-mover advantage," says analyst.

Further Reading:

Wednesday 4 March 2020

MásMóvil: Mass operator of Spain

Masmovil Group is the fourth largest converging telecommunications operator in Spain that provides fixed, mobile and broadband Internet services for residential, business and wholesale, through its main brands: Yoigo, Pepephone, MASMOVIL, Lebara and Llamaya.

The group relies on a fiber/ADSL network for broadband and 3G and 4G network for mobile telephony. By the end of 2019, it had reached more than 14.4 million fiber households and 18 million homes with ADSL. The companies’ 4G mobile network covers 98.5% of the Spanish population. The Group has 7.5 million customers in Spain. Additionally, it is the operator with the fastest fiber network in Spain according to a study by the company, nPerf, and the operator with the fastest 3G+4G aggregated mobile network in Spain, according to a study by the company, Tutela.

Masmovil have now acquired Lycamobile Spain, for €372m. Lycamobile Spain launched in 2010 with the aim of delivering low-cost mobile services of the highest quality to the market. The Company has since become the country’s leading MVNO, achieving impressive market penetration with over 1.5 million customers. The sale allows Lycamobile to continue its growth in existing and new markets and Masmovil to retain the Lycamobile brand in Spain.

Masmovil’s acquisition of the Company is an affirmation of the accomplishment of Lycamobile in the market.

However this is the latest in several lucrative acquisitions for Masmovil, for example :

Masmovil has said that Lycamobile’s 1.5 million customers will take its total connections to 10.4 million: at end-December 2019 the combined figure for mobile and broadband subscribers stood at 8.9 million Lycamobile is expected to contribute more than €75 million in EBITDA from 2021, mostly in savings from using Masmovil’s networks. Masmovil will retain the Lycamobile brand for the foreseeable future.

In a separate statement, Lyca Group founder and chairman Allirajah Subaskaran, said the traditionally MVNO geared company will turn its attention to expanding its global presence through MNO launches in new markets.

Further Reading:

Monday 2 March 2020

5G Sunrise over Switzerland

Swiss operator Sunrise was the first to launch 5G in the country. It may be the second major operator (2.4 million subscribers) but its 5G network currently covers 80% of the population. Meanwhile, market leader Swisscom (6.3 million subscribers) says it will have 90% 5G coverage by the end of 2019.  The third major national operator Salt has also launched a 5G service.

Sunrise is deploying 5G in Switzerland with Huawei as its main technological partner. Huawei is providing to Sunrise its end-to-end 5G network, including radio access network, transport network and core network .Sunrise  is currently only using spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band to provide 5G service in the country. For now, Sunrise said it isn’t expanding 5G in its other existing frequencies (700 MHz to 2600 MHz). Although this would help extend 5G coverage quickly, compatible devices are not currently readily available, and connection speeds do not differ significantly from advanced 4G service. Currently, 23 Sunrise shops across the country have already installed LampSities, a Huawei multi-band 5G small cell, so that customers can experience 5G firsthand.

The cornerstone of Sunrise’s “5G for the people” initiative, launched in April 2019 was to offer 5G based “fibre through the air” converged home broadband and TV services.

 The industry often refers to similar approaches as Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) but in Sunrise’s case the terminals are used indoors, there are no wall-mounted outdoor antennas and installer technicians involved and consumers are allowed to take the equipment and use them in any other location. Sunrise targets 5G fibre through the air in geographical areas where it doesn’t have favourable wholesale access to its partners fibre to the home (FTTH) networks and as such until now they needed to rely mainly on Swisscom’s DSL based wholesale products.

Sunrise pursues a Fixed-MobileConvergence (FMC) strategy in large cities and increasingly a Mobile Centric-Convergence (MCC) strategy outside the most populated areas, corresponding to the remaining 60-70% of the Swiss population.

Sunrise’s dedication to the “5G for the people” initiative is demonstrated by the rapid deployment pace of their 3.6 GHz based 5G network. Less than two months after securing  the required spectrum, Sunrise launched its home broadband service for friendly users in 150 cities/villages. In September 2019 Sunrise opened the service for the wider public. On the 18th December 2019 Sunrise claimed to provide 5G service in 384 cities/villages.

Sunrise has manged this despite  facing  serious deployment challenges due to the exceptionally strict Swiss Radio Frequency - Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation compliance limits, and regulations on the aesthetics of  5G towers and masts.

RootMetrics, the mobile analytics firm belonging to IHS Markit, said that Sunrise supplies the fastest 5G network in Switzerland. RootMetrics tested 5G connections in cars, trains and in more than 70 public buildings and pedestrian areas of cities. In total, it took more than 32,000 measurements from drive tests over 2,800 kilometers between Geneva and Zurich.

RootMetrics designed the test routes to include 5G areas covered by different providers. According to RootMetrics, Sunrise provided the most reliable services of the three mobile operators for other technologies than 5G, too, for data, voice and text performance. Sunrise is currently building 5G in the 3.5 GHz range with speeds up to 2 Gbps.

Further Reading: